Policy Pulse: President Proposes Severe Cuts to Conservation and Environmental Protection Budgets

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Boundary Waters Wilderness

In February, the Trump administration submitted its budget request for fiscal year 2021 to Congress. Unfortunately, this request is very similar to the past three years, proposing deep and counterproductive cuts in conservation, environmental protection, and public land management. The administration’s proposal again jeopardizes public health and the $887 billion outdoor recreation economy.

Department of Agriculture

  • Entire department cut by over 8%
  • Vital incentives for Conservation Reserve Program severely capped or eliminated
  • Conservation Stewardship Program eliminated

Army Corps of Engineers

  • Funding to prevent spread of Asian carp into Great Lakes at Brandon Road Lock and Dam completely eliminated
  • Everglades restoration funds grow to $250 million
  • Missouri River Recovery Program cut from historically low $17.7 million to paltry $9.7 million

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

  • Biggest cuts for all environmental and conservation agencies at 27%
  • Great Lakes Restoration Initiative maintained at $320 million
  • Chesapeake Bay Program slashed from $85 million to $7.3 million

Department of the Interior

  • Entire department cut by 13%
  • North American Wetlands Conservation Fund cut by over $6 million to $40 million
  • State and Tribal Wildlife Grants cut by more than half to $31.3 million.

Bill to Protect Boundary Waters Wilderness Introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives

The Boundary Waters Wilderness Protection and Pollution Prevention Act (H.R. 5598) was introduced by a bipartisan group of elected officials in the House of Representatives in January. The League strongly supports this legislation because of the immediate threats from mining and nearly a century of advocacy to protect this unique “canoe-country” wilderness.

Mining company Twin Metals has been working for years to develop a massive sulfide copper mine on National Forest lands that border the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) in Minnesota. A major mine could pollute streams and rivers flowing directly into the BWCAW with sulfuric acid, heavy metals, and other mine waste; would drain and fill wetlands; and close large areas of public lands to outdoor recreation.

This legislation would ensure permanent protection of the BWCAW from any future copper-nickel mineral leasing in its watershed, and complete a mineral withdrawal originally proposed by the United States Forest Service in 2016. A withdrawal of mineral leases in the proposed mine area is the best way to ensure the Boundary Waters remains permanently protected for future generations.

The League is committed to protecting this incredibly unique landscape and urges members to ask their U.S. Representatives to support this important legislation.

Environmental Protection Agency Finalizes Rule Weakening Clean Water Act

In April, the Trump Administration announced that it finalized a regulation that fundamentally weakens Clean Water Act protections for drinking water, streams, and wetlands nationwide. The League has opposed this regulation throughout the long process that led us to this point. The regulation would change the definition of Waters of the United States (WOTUS), which is the term for the waters protected by the Clean Water Act. Specifically, streams that flow after precipitation events and “isolated” wetlands that do not physically touch a larger water-body would not be protected any longer.

Removing protections for streams across America will adversely affect public health.

Beginning in the 1970s, EPA regulations relied on science-based standards to identify the specific types of water-bodies protected by the law. The overwhelming body of science proves that water quality in rivers and lakes, for example, is affected by waters that directly and indirectly flow into them. Because the purpose of the Clean Water Act is to improve and restore water quality nationwide, EPA regulations protected streams that flow periodically because pollution dumped into these streams adversely affects the health of larger waters.

This newly finalized regulation discards this science-based approach and replaces it with an arbitrary definition of WOTUS based on how frequently a stream has water flowing in it. Under this policy, a stream that flows for a few months due to melting snow would be protected by the Clean Water Act, but a stream that flows after every thunderstorm would not. Both flow periodically and both can carry pollution to other waters and affect water quality downstream, which demonstrates the blatant arbitrariness of the new policy.

Removing protections for streams across America will adversely affect public health. According to the EPA, about 117 million Americans get some or all their drinking water from public drinking water systems that are supplied, at least in part, by the very streams that are now at risk of pollution.

Protection for up to 20 million acres of wetlands will also be removed based on the administration’s arbitrary approach, which requires a wetland to have an uninterrupted surface water connection to a lake or river to be protected by the Clean Water Act. Because wetlands are so vital for water quality – filtering pollution as water moves across the landscape – and provide crucial habitat for fish and wildlife, most wetlands were historically protected by the Clean Water Act and EPA regulations. In a potentially devastating blow to sportsmen and birders, the new policy would guarantee that prairie potholes and other isolated wetlands essential for waterfowl would not be protected by the Clean Water Act.

As this regulation change has shown us, our waters are still vulnerable and we encourage our members to remain focused on the fight to defend clean water. Learn more.